What is it?
This is the most ludacris and rambunctious small SUV on sale today. That’s the headline.
Why? Well, imagine pairing a 200kW motor (with overboost) to a snarling exhaust and adding it to your cute little Kona.
It’s the SUV I wanted to exist back when my parents bought their ‘practical’ SUV and fun little hot hatch.
Hyundai have merged both cars into one affordable and capable package. It’s almost like a Frankensteinesque creation brewed up by the genius engineers over in Namyang, Korea.
Other brands would turn their noses up at a small performance, front-wheel drive SUV like this, while Hyundai simply went ahead and asked: ‘Why not?
Looking for a hot hatch for passengers who hate being driven around in one? Well, this is the car for you.
Build Quality4.3 out of 5.
The Hyundai Kona has proven itself to be a well-built little SUV.
The doors have a satisfying weight and sound and most of the interior trim is squeak and rattle-free.
Stitching around the suede leather seats, shifter and steering wheel isn’t out of place at all. I especially loved how Hyundai took the time to cover up any screw holes that you’d be able to feel but not see if they hadn’t been on the steering wheel itself.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few questionable elements - like the way the centre screen squeaked if you moved it ever so slightly, of how the rear diffuser around the exhaust flexed a little too much for my liking when cleaning it.
How Much Does it Cost?4.7 out of 5.
Starting from $47,500 for the base Kona N or $50,500 for the ‘Premium’ trim before on-road costs, it’s hard to argue against the fact this SUV is a performance bargain.
I was driving around in the Kona N Premium, which meant that I had nicer seats that were both heated and cooled, a heads up display, a sunroof and a heated steering wheel.
You definitely don’t need this upgrade, but it did live up to making the Kona N feel a little more ‘premium’.
There are no direct competitors to this small, front-wheel drive, performance-oriented SUV. You can head closer to $100,000 and you’ll find cars like the Audi SQ2 and Mercedes GLA 35 AMG, however those are a lot more expensive, and they’re all-wheel drive.
For the base equipment you receive, the performance, handling and that market-leading exhaust crackle, this is absolutely an affordable performance SUV option.
Warranty and Servicing4.7 out of 5.
Part of that affordability sentiment is the fact this comes with not only a 5 year/unlimited kilometre warranty, but also with a track day warranty for the same period.
It encourages you to not just enjoy the Kona N on the street, but also to use every ounce of engineering behind what makes the Kona N so great to drive, out on the track.
Over these 5 years, you also receive capped price servicing fees, resulting in an average cost per service equating to around $284.
I had to call on the 24/7 roadside assist to help in dealing with a flat tyre (thanks to a rusty nail) and found the experience from the call through to the eventual tyre change to be seamless and stress free. At least you can rely on that service if you do unexpectedly end up on the side of the road.
Noise Level4.6 out of 5.
Noise isolation is a bit of an issue in Hyundai’s N Performance cars because you have stickier tyres and a booming engine and exhaust tone.
Not even an upgraded Harman/Kardon sound system could completely block the sound that bled into the cabin. You’re going to hear more road noise thanks to those bigger and grippier tires.
Podcasts and music were more than enjoyable to listen to through these speakers, however I found myself far more interested in that exhaust sound.
Like many other reviewers, I’m in disbelief at just how Hyundai managed to get this exhaust tune passed by Australian regulators. It is beyond loud when you open those valves and start to lift off that throttle or go for some aggressive down shifts.
It’s intoxicating to engage, and will bring out your inner hooligan as it startles pedestrians. Don’t forget, it actually serves a purpose: to keep that turbocharger spooled when you aren’t accelerating. You can use that fact to justify why you’re doing it around your local area.
Braking4.3 out of 5.
These brakes are a whole 55mm larger than the ones you’d find on the standard Kona.
You can guarantee they are effective, seeing as the increase in brake size isn’t because the Kona increased in weight.
Extra stopping power is recommended when you have the most powerful motor in the Kona line up. If you can hit 100km/h in 5.4 seconds, you need to stop just as quick.
Brake feel inspires confidence thanks to a strong initial bite, and never fades - even after a strenuous session of high-speed backroad driving.
Acceleration/Power4.5 out of 5.
I find it liberating that a motor like this is available to purchase at this price point, rather than having to spend major cash for a properly developed engine.
This isn’t just a slightly tuned 2.0L turbocharged petrol four-cylinder powerplant; instead, it’s been fettled by Hyundai’s N Performance division to provide proper performance.
There’s a wide powerband for both peak power and peak torque. 206kW arrives as soon as 5,500rpm through to 6,000rpm and 392Nm from as little as 2,100rpm through to 4,700pm.
For an engine paired to a large turbocharger, that wide torque band and high end power translates to a strong acceleration and the ability to use all of your revs.
Some engines like this hit peak power early in the rev range, meaning that riding out to redline isn’t as productive as shifting a little earlier - not exactly the best driving experience. What’s fun is that Kona N allows you to ride to redline and enjoy power through to the end. It’s a far more sophisticated turbocharged engine experience, and all for a reasonable asking price.
Since this is a dual-clutch automatic, launch control can be activated and simply engaged by pressing the brake pedal and mashing the throttle. Lifting off the brake doesn’t result in an unruly scramble for grip by the front tyres. Rather, the car accesses that peak torque early, and proceeds to throw you to 100km/h quicker than the i30N hatchback can.
Not to mention that this car has an overboost feature called ‘N Grin Shift’. Via a button labeled ‘NGS’ on the steering wheel, you can increase peak power to 213kW for 20 seconds to either get that extra speed out of a corner, or go for that overtake. It requires a 40 second cooldown between runs.
It’s an exhilarating ride, and it’ll be the car that completely changes the minds of skeptics of Hyundai’s ability to produce fast and well thought out performance cars.
Gear Shifting4.8 out of 5.
My first experience using this dual-clutch transmission was in the i30N hatchback. And like a religious awakening, I found an automatic that had me question my loyalty to manual transmission.
My second experience, here in the Kona N, has cemented the notion that if it’s lap times, launch control and speed you’re after, this is the transmission to have. Although, it is the transmission you have to have since it’s the only option for the Kona N.
Regardless, the engineering behind this transmission is just as impressive as the engineering behind the engine and chassis of this car.
Shifts are immediate, crisp and never hesitate to respond to your every input. I would have liked to have seen a little more immediacy and gear holding in the transmission’s most aggressive setting. However, I could just take over in manual mode to satisfy that urge.
Suspension & Handling4.5 out of 5.
This would be the biggest differentiation for those looking to shop between an i30N hatchback and a Kona N.
The additional ride height and increased tyre wall size means the Kona offers a far softer ride than the i30N across all surfaces.
It becomes the hot hatch for passengers who hate riding around in a hot hatch. Thanks to adjustable dampers, you can have the Kona N ride just like a normal SUV for the most part.
For when you want to extract every drop of capability from this car, you can stiffen those exact dampers to provide a reactive and engaging ride. Additionally, the car’s pillars have been strengthened for additional rigidity, which is noticeable through high speed corners.
For an SUV, it certainly doesn’t handle like one. Rather, it feels like a rally car-like ride.
Fuel Efficiency3 out of 5.
A downside to all that fun you’ll have in the Kona N is the fuel bill and consumption. I averaged around 10L per 100km over 1000km of driving, only seeing figures as low as 8L per 100km during long, uninterrupted highway drives.
It doesn’t help that this car has an intoxicating exhaust note that only eggs you on to drive with a heavier right foot.
The Kona N only accepts 95 octane fuel and above, meaning it’ll cost you around $113 to fill this tank from empty.
Interior Design4.6 out of 5.
I was already impressed with the Kona’s interior design. The Kona N simply brings N Performance flair to complement those aggressive exterior looks.
Starting with the bucket seats, they look more sporty over the standard N-Line seats in the Kona, yet they aren’t as compromised as the lightweight bucket seats you get in the i30N.
Aside from the N Performance steering wheel, blue stitching and shifter, there isn’t a whole lot that has changed on the inside of the Kona for this N model.
The new N Performance menu in the infotainment system and the N Performance read out on the heads up display and in the driver’s display are the biggest software changes. They simply provided more performance data and fun-to-read graphics.
It’s a mild upgrade compared to the likes of the i20N and i30N, however it only improved the cabin’s feel and design.
Boot Size & Comfort4.3 out of 5.
The Kona is a whole 50mm shorter than the i30N, meaning you have less boot space than the lower-riding hatchback.
There’s 361L available with all the seats up, and 1143L with all the seats folded down. It’s an easy-to-live-with boot space, as the load floor is flat all the way through and the seats are easy to fold.
Although I appreciate the flat load floor, it wouldn’t have hurt to make this boot a smidge larger for small families to get them to strongly consider this over the i30N hatch.
Comfort front and back is excellent for a small sporty SUV like this. I rode all day in the Kona, and that my back survived being glued to these seats. So much so, actually, that I was able to run 15km at the gym comfortably after 8 hours of driving and filming that same day.
Add creature comforts like heated and cooled front seats and radar cruise control with active lane keep assist, and you have a top pick for a fun to drive SUV for those long road trips.
Features4.9 out of 5.
This is a feature-packed SUV, regardless of its performance. However, in place of rear heated seats (a strange omission for the Kona N), you have a dynamic SUV powerplant, transmission, chassis and brake setup.
We scored the Premium model of the Kona N to show off all the features you can get, although if you can live without some features like heated and cooled seats, a sunroof and leather seats, the base Kona N is still a strong pick.
- 2.0L turbocharged inline four-cylinder petrol engine
- 206kW (213kW on overboost) at 6,000rpm and 392Nm at 2,100-4,7000rpm
- 8-speed dual-clutch transmission
- 10.25-inch full colour touch screen
- 10.25-inch drivers display
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Harman/Kardon audio system
- Driver Attention Warning (DAW)
- Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA)
- Lane Keeping Assist - Line (LKA-L)
- Lane Following Assist - Line (LFA)
- Blind Spot Cameras
- Eletronically adjustable suspension
- Performance exhaust system
- Mechanical limited slip differential
- 'N mode' and drive mode buttons on steering wheel
- N-specific brakes
- Shift indicator lights
- Short-throw gear shifter
- N-specific body kit and aerodynamics
- N-specific sports seats
- Keyles entry and exit/engine start and stop
- Automatic headlights and wipers
- Leather seats
- Reversing camera
- Heads Up Display
- Radar Cruise Control
Buy it, Consider it, or Leave it?
There’s nothing to consider alongside the Kona N in this front-wheel drive SUV category. Similar to the Toyota GR Yaris, it operates on its own without being able to be compared to other small performance SUVs, simply because it’s front wheel drive only.
It’s a lifted hot hatch for a reasonable price. It’ll be the sensible choice if you’re regularly carrying passengers who don’t love the idea of an aggressive hot hatch like the i30N.
For that reason alone, of being able to have your cake and eat it, I’d recommend you buy the Kona N if you’re constantly in a debate with others about whether you should be in a hot hatch.
It’s not a used performance SUV, so you have all the factory support you’d need for 5 years of ownership (both on and off track too).
If I had a significant other in my life that didn’t want to be subjected to another 5 years of driving in a hot hatch, the Kona N is the grown up hooligan hatch for those looking for a smidge of sophistication.
About the author Cameron is our resident car expert. Aside being a source of knowledge about the automotive industry, he has also driven a wide variety of cars - from a Porsche 911 GT2 RS, through to a 1998 Toyota RAV4.
Questions & Answers
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|Category||Small / Compact SUVs|
|Transmission||Continuously Variable (CVT)|
|Fuel Consumption||6.2 L/100km|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||50 L|
|Engine||Smartstream G2.0 Atkinson|
|Max Power||110kW @ 6200rpm|
|Max Torque||180Nm @ 4500rpm|
|Boot Capacity||374 L|
|Phone Connectivity||Android Auto (Wired), Apple CarPlay (Wired), Bluetooth and USB|
|Maximum Towing Capacity (braked)||1,300 kg|
|Maximum Towing Capacity (unbraked)||600 kg|
|Headlight Features||Automatic On/Off and Delayed Off When Parked|
|Cameras||Front and Rear|
|Cruise Control||Adaptive (ACC)|
|Parking Sensors||Cross-Traffic Alert (Rear), Front and Rear|
|Hazard Perception||Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) and Forward Collision Warning|
|Lane Assistance||Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Keep Assist (LKA)|
|Speed Sign Recognition||None|
|Kerb Weight||1,280 kg|
|Release date||Oct 2021|
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